Serbian Medieval History

Stefan Lazarevic, Prince (1389 - 1402)

stefan_icon.jpg Following the Kosovo battle where Prince Lazar had perished, his son Stefan, still a minor, inherited rule over Serbia. After a Hungarian raid on Serbia in late 1389, his mother, acting as regent on his behalf, accepted a vassal relationship with the Turks. In that capacity, Stefan later diligently fought at Rovine (1395) against the prince of Wallachia Mircea, and at Nikopolis (1396) against the Crusaders, and the sultan - now his brother-in-law - duly rewarded him for these services with Vuk Brankovic's possessions. With him, Stefan was later also in the famous Battle of Angora (1402), where the Turks were defeated by the Mongols under Tamerlane, and Bayezid himself captured, despite Stefan's valiant attempts to save his lord. Returning from Asia Minor he visited Constantinople where he received the title of Despot from the Byzantine emperor John VII. This marks the end of the initial period of disintegration of Serbian state institutions following czar Dusan's death and the beginning of recovery - now precipitated by the Ottoman Angora debacle - which, although ultimately temporary, would prove to be of great significance.

stefan_mining2_icon.jpgJUSTICE FOR ALL, illumination from Stefan's Mining Law

In 1403 Stefan became a Hungarian vassal and received in return Belgrade, the Macva region, the fortress of Golubac on the Danube, the mining town of Srebrenica (eastern Bosnia) and possessions in southern Hungary. He also established good relations with the new sultan Suleiman. In the meantime, profiting from struggles between Suleiman and his brother Musa, Stefan's brother Vuk rebelled, with some success, against him. However, in a sudden clash in 1410, Vuk was killed by the despot's soldiers and his Turkish allies. Stefan also managed to reconcile his differences with the Brankovic family and his nephew Djuradj in particular. The next dangerous temptation arose after the sudden death of sultan Suleiman, as Musa, by now the despot's bitter enemy, took possession of the Turkish throne. Stefan answered by assembling a coalition with the Bosnians, Hungarians, and Musa's brother Mehemmed. Finally, in 1413, in the battle under Mount Vitosa, Musa was defeated and killed. Shortly thereafter, Stefan signed a favorable peace treaty with the new sultan Mehemmed, which had thus enabled him, through his skillful and wise policy, to gather most central Serbian lands under his power. Furthermore, just prior to his death in 1421, Stefan's nephew Balsa III Balsic bequeathed him Zeta, thus folding this area once again back into the mainstream Serbian state. Serbia enjoyed a new period of improvement and economic advance, and this was particularly evident in mining (Novo Brdo, Srebrenica). It was responsible for a fifth of the entire European silver production; only through Dubrovnik 5 tons of silver were exported annually. In 1412 the well-known Mining Law was passed, which among the rest guaranteed privileges to miners and security in all mining activities. Also flourishing at the time were trade and handicraft. Through intensive trade connections, Serbia was tied to two important economic zones - the Adriatic and Danubian ones. Urban progress, which filled the towns with men of trade and business from abroad (especially from Dubrovnik), managed to partially detach Serbia from its feudal past, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of contemporaneous Italian states of the emerging Renaissance. Towns also gathered relative autonomy, and Belgrade - at this point a thriving city of some 50,000 souls - became the new Serbian capital, where the despot's dignified court was organized as an interesting fusion of older Byzantine and humanistic gallant manners. Significant fortifications from Stefan's reign remain today as the core part of Belgrade's Upper City, with a commanding view of the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. His main endowment is the famous Manasija monastery.

According to his contemporaries, despot Stefan was a medieval warrior, a well-educated knight, delicate poet, and humanistic savant, all at the same time. He also belonged to the highest class of Hungarian aristocracy and invested in huge possessions in Hungary where he settled Serbs, and temporarily resided in his gothic palace in Buda - parts of which are still preserved. Stefan Lazarevic died suddenly in 1427, leaving the throne to his nephew Djuradj Brankovic. His deeds elevated him eventually into sainthood, and the Church honors him on August 1st.


stefan_mining2.jpg Shown here is part of the colorful and eclectic gallery of characters from an illumination of the opening pages of Stefan's Mining Law - presumably intended to suggest fairness of its provisions to disparate constituencies involved in this complex but strategic economic process. Apart from expanding on earlier legislative work of several of Stefan's predecessors, this document is also linguistically notable for the liberal use of the vernacular language of its day.


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